Should judiciary desist from intervening in matters of faith?

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Published: January 23, 2020 2:00:10 AM

Allahabad HC’s order against loudspeaker use for azaan fair, but courts must desist from intervening in matters of faith

The HC’s decision certainly seems unimpeachable. The HC’s decision certainly seems unimpeachable.

The Allahabad High Court recently quashed an appeal against a Jaunpur sub-divisional magistrate’s order refusing permission to two mosques in the area to use loudspeakers for azaan. Justices Pankaj Mithal and VC Dixit ruled that no religion mandates profession of faith through the use of sound amplifiers, and, in the cases where such a prescription does exist, it is necessary to limit its implementation to preserve the rights of others. To create noise, the court held, is no one’s fundamental right. Further, referring to a clutch of Supreme Court judgments, the bench reiterated that the fundamental freedom to practise one’s religion is not absolute, and must be balanced against considerations of public law and order, and health. The HC’s decision certainly seems unimpeachable. The villages in question have a mixed Hindu and Muslim population and a history of communal violence. Inconvenience caused to either community due to the other’s religious practices, therefore, carries the risk of disturbing law and order.

However, the court’s involvement in matters of faith must not become par for the course. If a court rules on the usage of loudspeakers in mosques, shouldn’t it also take similar action for other forms of public nuisances, say, traffic hazards and jams, thanks to kawariya processions or Ganesh Chaturti celebrations? In a country where religious equality is already fraught with conflict—the Sabrimala case comes to mind—imagine the sheer number of cases that would result from the courts becoming actively involved in determining questions of faith. While it is draconian and unconstitutional to prevent people from publicly professing or practising their religious beliefs, it must be remembered that conflicts arising from this are best resolved through dialogue. Legislation or excessive legal intervention in such matters not only will prove ineffective but also carries the risk of being counter-productive.

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